Over the past year, the Scottish Episcopal Church has been holding ‘Cascade Conversations’ about human sexuality. These started at the provincial level with representatives from the dioceses meeting and talking and listening over a couple of days. A similar — albeit rushed — process happened at General Synod. The different dioceses have held their own conversations in different ways; in Edinburgh, this took place at our Diocesan Synod. That was less than ideal, having to move from diocesan business into a touchy-feely, emotionally charged discussion.
The process has not been perfect. Some people have felt unsafe and unable to share. Some of the language used has been less than helpful, to put it mildly. Some of the settings have been wrong. Sometimes it has felt as though we’re discussing an ‘issue’ and not people’s actual lives and loves. So I will say now that I have mixed feelings about it, knowing that some have felt deeply affirmed and others have felt deeply hurt.
The hope has been that these discussions will ‘cascade’ down to parish level, that all will feel that they have been give the opportunity to share their stories and to listen to others whose views may or may not be different from theirs. The hope has been not to reach a consensus, not to convert everyone to one way of thinking, but to recognise the diversity of views and emotional complexity that will be brought to future debates about how the Scottish Episcopal Church responds to the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Act 2014, so that we might enter into that debate with a degree of respect and a willingness to listen graciously.
Today Old Saint Paul’s, Saint John’s, and Saint Paul’s & Saint George’s met for our cascade conversation. I was awed and humbled at how deeply people shared. I heard people speaking honestly, bravely and kindly. I felt tears welling up at several points at the pain which was so evident in some of the stories. Someone said at one point they felt on holy ground, and I think I would agree.
One of the most damaging parts of this process over the past year has been a narrative of division, that there are two equally-balanced sides, those for and those against equal marriage. I have heard people outside this diocese insist that the larger evangelical churches in Edinburgh will leave if the SEC affirms same-sex marriage. I have heard people say that it is the older generation that is holding the younger generation back. I have heard people say that the ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ will never agree.
From my experience today with about a hundred people spanning the age, sexuality, theological, and gender spectrums, I can say that those assumptions are absolutely incorrect, and that this narrative of potential schism must be challenged.
The process may be flawed. The institution may well get in the way, and I have a real concern that it will.
But today gave me hope. It gave me hope because I saw a gracious and humble model of leadership. It gave me hope because there are people within the church who are willing to listen with generosity, to share with trust, and to publicly say that they are struggling, that they are confused, or that they are beginning to change their minds. It gave me hope because we may be of differing opinions, but we are one body in Christ, and there was real commitment to remaining one body. But most of all, it gave me hope because, while the church has caused such hurt, over and over I heard people speak about the length, height, depth and breadth of God’s love, the way they have felt it in their own lives and relationships, and their longing that all may experience that love.